Early in the 2015 season, if a team was preparing to deal with the Seattle Seahawks offense, the first priority was to stop Marshawn Lynch and then deal with Russell Wilson. But when Lynch went down with an abdominal injury, Wilson displayed one impressive in-season transformation.
Through nine games, Wilson had thrown just 10 touchdown passes with seven interceptions and had only two games with a passer rating of 100.0 or higher. In the seven games without Lynch, Wilson has thrown 24 touchdown passes with just one interceptions and weekly passer ratings of 138.5, 147.9, 146.0, 139.6, 128.3 and 123.7 in six of those seven games.
While Wilson has always been viewed as a very good quarterback, when forced to take over the offense he became elite. As the Minnesota Vikings prepare for the Seahawks Sunday, one of the primary focuses now will be on both Wilson’s passing and rushing ability.
“When you have a good mobile quarterback like Russell, he can get out of the pocket and create plays down the field,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “Our biggest thing is to just go out there and rush him to try to contain him in the pocket, but also to use the rush to get back there and hit him.”
One advantage the Vikings defense will have Sunday is that they spent the previous week forcing linebackers and defensive backs to maintain their coverage longer than they typically do. Having faced Aaron Rodgers the week before, the Vikings spent plenty of time preparing for a quarterback capable of extending plays, picking up first downs with his legs and throwing daggers deep downfield.
While Rodgers is a threat to run, he typically evades the pocket looking downfield to throw rather than run. With Wilson, it’s a “pick your poison” proposition and the Vikings are fully aware that Wilson can make game-changing plays with both his arm and his legs.
“The big thing for us is that we have to stick with our coverage longer than normal,” safety Andrew Sendejo said. “It will be another week of that. Our front will do a good job of keeping him contained and we’ll all work together.”
The wild card in the Seattle offense now that the playoffs have begun is the return of Lynch. After missing seven games, Lynch was a full participant in practice Wednesday and is on track to make his return against the Vikings Sunday.
The question facing the Vikings is whether the Seahawks will revert to their old M.O. and make Lynch the centerpiece of the offense or stick with the hot hand of Wilson? As far as the Vikings are concerned, they’re now a two-headed beast and the first job will be to stop Lynch and then go after Wilson.
“We’ve just got to hit him, gang-tackle him and wrap him up,” Griffen said. “He is Marshawn Lynch and there is a respect factor there. The biggest thing for us to go is to execute our assignments, stop the run, and when we get the chance to tackle him we’ve got to gang-tackle him and get him on the ground.”
The Vikings know their first trip to the playoffs as a home team in six years is going to be a daunting task against the two-time defending NFC champion.
In a season when they have been able to reverse longstanding losing trends, there may be no bigger challenge than taking out Seattle – something that no other NFC team has been able to accomplish in the playoffs in the last two years.
Will the Vikings be the one that puts a “1” in the loss column of the Seahawks’ recent postseason record? If they’re going to be the team that brings an end to the dream of a Seattle Super Bowl trilogy, they’re going to have to bring their top performance.
Most people don’t think it will happen. But, then again, most people without a vested interest didn’t think the Vikings were going to beat Green Bay last Sunday night.
The motto this week may well be, “Why not us?”
“They’re playing good ball right now,” Sendejo said. “That’s what good teams do down the stretch. You start clicking. It’s our job to click on defense as well to combat that. We’re getting used to playing in these bigger games – a few night games that we’ve been able to perform well and get some wins. We’re used to that now. Playoff football is going to be even bigger and we’re looking forward to it.”